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Script Doctor Eric

This is the second installment of a weekly series that takes you through the process of writing a screenplay from beginning to end, with the goal of a first draft by March!  -Eric

How to Write a Movie in 2013

Last week you got your idea for your movie in Lesson 1: The Idea

This week* you’ll take that that idea and turn it into a story.


Hopefully, one of the reasons you chose your movie idea is because you can already see most of that story in your head.

Got the major aspects of the story?  Great!  Now you’re ready to…PRE-WRITE!

I know there are screenwriters who do not outline or do any sort of PRE-WRITING.  Guess what – there are also cooks who don’t use a recipe.  And dinner turns out great!

But, to take the cooking analogy further, if your screenplay is a meal, it is a long, complicated meal that requires hundreds of hours to prepare.

In other words, when I’m writing a script, I like to use a recipe so I don’t forget what the hell I’m making.

For most of us, PRE-WRITING is where the real magic happens.  (That’s why I’ve capitalized it throughout this post.  You thought that was a mistake?  Haha!  Not a mistake…anymore.)  PRE-WRITING is where you take your movie idea and transform it into the film you want to see, from start to finish.

Anything you can imagine – that can happen in your script!  So go nuts!  Come up with the most exciting or humorous or poignant or thoughtful or fresh way to tell that story.

I like to do this by writing it down.  I’ll just open up a Word Document and start writing as many aspects of the story as I can.  No judgement, just get everything out there on the page, someplace you can see it and work with it.

Or sometimes I’ll go old school – paper and pen!  I know, try going to a coffee shop and writing on a legal pad – people don’t know what to make of it!

I then condense everything onto a one-sheet, single-spaced summary of the plot. However, I intentionally have not included an example, because everyone pre-writes differently.**  There is no “right” or “wrong” way, just get it down somewhere where you can make sense of it.

Mold, and shape your ideas into a story that make sense.  A story that you could possibly even tell someone.  Which leads me to an optional next step – pitch it!

If you get tired of writing out your ideas, folks such as Blake Snyder in Save The Catadvocate pitching your story to anyone who will listen, paying attention to when they’re eyes glaze over out of boredom.  When you discover the boredom-inducing aspects of your story, go back and fix them!  Then find another sucker to pitch.  Or pitch strangers!  It takes a little bravery, but man, it can be fun.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and worry that you may not be convinced of the importance of PRE-WRITING is important.  When I give script notes, so many of those notes are about ways to improve the story.  When I write my own screenplays, so many of my own problems have to do with the story.  For as Robert McKeeand others have noted, the more PRE-WRITING you do, the less rewriting you’ll have to do of your actual script.

OK, but I thought we were writing a movie?  When do I bust out the Final Draft program I just bought and bang out some Tarantino-esque dialogue!?!

We’ll get there, but trust me – this “prewriting” will pay off in spades.  Or hearts.  Depending on which card game you’re playing.***

So before you type FADE IN:**** and begin cooking up a script, it is important, nay VITAL, that you have some semblance of where you are going with this thing.

Otherwise, you could end up with a kitchen fire.

Trust me.  PRE-WRITING will help.  As they say, PRE-WRITE now, rewrite less later on.

Seriously, and…



* If this takes more than a week, that is fine.  In fact, it’s more than fine – it’s probably better.  This part of the process is so crucial, you could easily spend a month working out the story before you begin writing.  But, some people skip this part of the process entirely, so at the minimum – and for the purpose of this series – see if you can do it in a week!  :)

** I will post an example of my PRE-WRITING documents, but not until next week.  First, try it on your own!  :)

*** For the record, I prefer Hearts.  Although I never pass up a good game of Spades.  Seriously.

**** A lot of scripts these days do not begin with FADE IN: so if you want to omit it, that’s fine.  However, if you do use it, be sure you place it against the left margin, not the right, even though some screenwriting programs may automatically place against the right side…they’re trying to mess with you!  Or not.  I’m not sure why they do that.  Probably lazy programming.  Are you you still reading this footnote?  If so, perhaps you can answer this question: How do you use actual footnotes in WordPress?  This use of stars as footnotes is getting a little silly…

That is all.  Why are you still reading?  You should be PRE-WRITING!  :)

Related posts:

  1. How to Write a Movie in 2013 – Lesson 1: The Idea
  2. Lesson 1: Screenwriting is Writing
  3. Screenwriting is Writing – Lesson 2: Verbs
  4. Writing a Query with No Screenwriting Credits